The Woolf 2018 Poetry Competition winning poem:
Tom Thomson, First Snow, 1915
The sky broke into pieces
as the wind rushed in
to fill the gaps with silence.
I asked myself questions
about the world and time,
puzzling at the movement
of water on the dour face
of Canoe Lake when the sun
sank behind stone clouds.
The birds grew mute.
Through the falling flakes,
I am certain I can see
the future, the bone birches
like brides waiting for promises,
and the rise of tomorrow
in the far hills; but this silence,
this new language, is enough
to choke prayers from fingers
that clasp, and point skyward,
to aim my thoughts at God,
knowing his answer has no words;
that the future is waiting
to take my breath away,
beyond the skeletal stand.
And here—in alphabetical order, according to the poet’s last name—are the joint runners-up.
Francesco E.A. Jannetta
On December 12th, the heat popping beads
of sweat onto the foreheads, marking shirts’
armpits with grey stains, contorting the air,
vibrating the lusciously green trees’ leaves.
A cold call from Klondike mediated
by Jack’s simple prose evoking the harsh
and violent snow falling there, not here
in this garden in Switzerland’s centre.
Ein Blatt auf das Blatt, crisp leaf upon page
about to be turned. Glances to the sky
supposed to situate its origin
discover brown trees dead for winter’s rage.
The salt-solution sticking up bodies
still remaining in a climate now changed,
an inexplicability, the sun,
the warmth erased, replaced; snow is falling.
The puzzled look to the glass of cold coke,
the inquiry of the cigarette
half smoked, revoked by clearing clouds, the sun’s
return from brief absence, December 12th.
Definitions of Snow
The first snow each early November
is made of curiosity. It blows from the lake,
crystals rectangular, contemporary.
This is what is meant by new. The air
tastes of steel. After new snow when sky
blots out sun with a grief that will not
stop weeping for its lost children, clouds
come down upon sidewalks and cars.
This is called whole snow. It will not cease
until it kills us all. Or tries. Or fails.
Shout at whole snow and it will sound
the depths no heart has known, not since
last year or the year before. Death snow
comes in broad, heavy flakes
joined at their fingertips to wrap the world.
All hands but theirs numb at the touch.
There is no secret to death snow. Senses
are buried deep beneath it.
By mid-March, snow is pebbles,
a broken windshield, a view no one wanted.
This is called pane snow. It could melt
but it is far more patient. Its heart is ice;
but even ice and pane know their limits.
What is left by roadsides and in gutters
is broken snow, its brown hump a carcass,
a legend to describe to anyone who listens—
though they may not believe a word of it—
what it means to feel the hell from heaven.
As Wilson Bentley photographed flakes
in the barn of his Vermont farm, he knew
that each unique creation passing before
his eyes into the timelessness of forever
was a small masterpiece that never again
would grace the world as individual.
Today in the gallery, in each individual
frame, I peered into small worlds. Flakes
of art lovers’ dust settled again and again
on the varnished surfaces, and I knew
that man is as much the enemy of forever
as time, and our best efforts stand before
us as reminders of our brief lives. Before
man learned to paint, he had the individual
stars, the stories they told set forever
against the unknown; in the cold, the flakes
fell from heaven because heaven knew
that even it was beyond permanence. Again,
I watch snowstorms, updrafts rising again
and falling until the dance is madness before
the emptiness of death. Wilson Bentley knew
that the universe was ruled by an individual
mind constantly seeking a singular snowflake,
the brevity that is beauty. Nothing lasts forever.
Art and snowstorms are reminders that forever
is a rare moment when nothing dies, yet again,
nature mistakes originality for effort; snowflakes,
each unique, must be crafted in time before
time’s end. The storms will exhaust individual
possibilities to prove there are limits we knew
to exist but have never proven. If we knew
the end of things, we might stop trying, and forever
lose that vision that makes us individual,
that maniera so frail yet so strong we gain
purpose, testing our minds before
our time ends. We are kin to snowflakes,
and if we knew we were a beauty that never again
will exist, we would struggle to last forever before
we melt, leaving a tear as individual as a snowflake.
Barely able to see
the thread of blue
landing lights strung
along the runway’s edge,
the line of passengers
from a burning plane
three ahead of ours
retreated like an army.
Some were running
for their lives, some
slow and orderly, some
slower because the snow
ran hard in their faces –
one man lost the rank
and wandered off,
to disappear in the dark.
The wind shifted
until they clustered:
by the cabin window,
crawling to get out
of the wind, and if any
made it clear, their arms
spread in helpless defence
or puzzled abandonment,
they huddled together
as if their lives
were only a night long.
Everything that evaporates
The snowflakes are bullet points,
raging like everything that evaporates, pearls misplaced
in the landfill. Rage-raging, like wet extension cords,
like tubeworms dipped in vinegar.
The snowflakes fell on hard times; they fell like stars,
like everything from Grace.
It was black snow
when my lover set two duck eggs in the letterbox.
Night, when scree sucked the melatonin
from the black hills,
we threw the eggs in a fish tank.
They sank. My lover cracked
one open to find the embryo cross-legged
like a woman. We incinerated the yolks and albumin
on the kitchen stove. Rage-raging,
we held ourselves like dogs,
like wolves, hunkered over lamentable prey.
My lover howled at the extractor fan,
at the centrifugal juicer and at the crockpot.
I opened a window to feel the snow
burn away a dream of ducklings.
My lover smiled and disappeared.
It comes in on a whisper like gossip,
as snow always does at night,
clothes this high point town –
a Marilyn ─ in white; the billowing
of her dress blows through hilly streets.
I drive home from Eridge in a lace of flakes and slush,
crawl past a jack-knife’s edge, wonder
if I circle long enough whether this will clear,
call him to say I’m fine, just stop, start,
slow in the snow.
I hear his fire-warmed voice,
deep as the dark, words muscle through ice.
He talks me home, talks me in.
At first glance, anyway,
Because when I look closely
There’s clearly more to you
Than I first thought.
My assumptions—like your edges—
Are ridged, rutted,
My finger, were it small enough,
Hooking on your inconsistencies,
Snared on a misunderstanding of my own making
Because you are not what I thought you would be,
And I have only myself to blame.
Are as disordered as my thinking,
Unsettled, mutable, and relentlessly changeable,
Just like the weather.
I now see,
Are entirely yourself,
As am I,
The two of us,
Though we don’t always know it,
At least from a distance.
A steady streaming
of blood. Spectators
turned mute, rendered complicit.
Hey nonny nonny, hey nonny nonny
A light is burning
Writhing and turning
in bed. Spectators
who watched now whisper goodnight.
Hey nonny nonny, hey nonny nonny
Young body flailing
Her limbs are trailing
You will not see what you fear.
Hey nonny nonny, hey nonny nonny
The snowflakes are too beautiful
They will not last for long
Hey nonny nonny, hey nonny nonny ho.
The Cycle of Life
Solomon Au Yeung
Life is dressed in colourful robes, the top covered with lice —Eileen Chang
We are like waters,
Living lives of rejuvenated, lives of countless births, life
unstoppable routines, life;
an untraceable past, living
only in the mind, living
awakening the fast-asleep,
a mode of self-defence
the water drops
are creating their
own dance moves
celebrating their lives,
a united tribe
those danced for long
are now taking a rest, holding the
delicate form of whiteness by
extending their six arms,
together humming their favourite Christmas carols
the composition of this place
has started to
as the ice breaks and
the waters vaporize …
an endless transformation
Another … Cycle of Life
Another … Cycle of Mankind
Congratulations again to all our winning poets. You can read about winning poet Bruce Meyer and all the runners-up on our competitions page.